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What Is Ego-State Therapy?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ego-state therapy is a method of mental health treatment that views the human personality as a multi-faceted group of states, each with its own purpose. These can almost be seen as multiple separate personalities, but they wouldn't function independently in normal life. When using the concept of ego-states to treat patients, the therapist will use various techniques, often including hypnosis, to access all the person's individual personality states and help the person resolve various mental problems. Sometimes this sort of therapy is used to treat people with major emotional issues but it can also be used for people that simply need help motivating themselves to solve some important life tasks, including things like quitting smoking or losing weight. There has been some skepticism in the academic community about the effectiveness of treatments like this that generally involve hypnosis, but there are also studies that have shown benefits from hypnotherapy.

When people face decisions in life, they may often find themselves dealing with a multitude of internal conflicts. For example, if a man were trying to decide how much money to spend on a new computer, part of him might be eager to spend as much as possible to buy a super-powerful gaming machine, while another part might be urging caution and reminding him about his impending bills. Ultimately, the individual will generally fight this internal battle, and one side will win the argument, leading to the decision. During the process, the man may experience a lot of stress, and in some cases, he might make the wrong decision in the end, possibly because he paid too much attention to one side of his personality while ignoring the one he should have been listening to.

A practitioner of ego-state therapy works to help people resolve internal conflicts and find the sources of life problems by literally breaking down their internal dialogue into separate parts called ego-states. In some cases, these states can almost be seen as separate identities that the person wears at different times depending on the situation. For example, a person may have an identity that is presented to his parents, and another version of himself that he uses when he needs to be a leader or a friend. Those who practice ego-state therapy believe that all these identities are present at any given time, and they may have an impact on a person's internal dialogue even though only one is actually active in any situation, and some of them may be almost entirely suppressed at times.

The actual practical use of ego-state therapy often involves hypnosis. While the patient is hypnotized, the therapist will attempt to directly communicate with the different sides of the individual's personality to get directly to the heart of a problem. Sometimes the therapist may even attempt to create a group discussion with several of the different personality aspects at once, or at least the ones involved in the issue at hand. Resolving a problem may involve convincing one ego-state to change its approach to problems, or the solution may be more about changing the person's coping strategies so that more effective ego-states are used in important life situations.

Generally speaking, there is some skepticism in certain corners of the academic community about hypnosis as a viable treatment for mental health disorders. Some question how effective hypnosis really is in allowing therapists to get in touch with a person's unconscious mind. There are studies that show improvements in patients treated with hypnosis, but some therapists would argue that other methods might have worked better for those people.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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